Mud pies in the back garden. Learning how to knit. Being driven to dance, choir, piano or school. Honing my green thumb. Helping me through university. Passing on the family history.
These are just a handful of things I was blessed to experience with my grandparents over the years. I was fortunate to grow up with all four of them, and I always say – they raised me as much as my parents did. When I became an adult, I gained newfound respect for them; I began to know them as people.
Six years ago, in a full-time job and married, both grandmothers began facing serious health challenges. One was falling deeper into the complexities of dementia, and one had broken her hip – reducing her ability to get out and about the way she used to.
I wanted desperately to throw everything away and be a full-time granddaughter, but my head knew that work was both a financial necessity and ironically, a back door means of self-care for myself.
My mom, who was also still working full-time, said wisely “Work has a routine and ends but caregiving keeps going”.
Photo: Both of my grandmas
So how did we find a balance between caregiving and work?
There is no one answer, as each caregiving case has its own unique challenges. My advice is always to wholly explore and exhaust all options.
- Cast your net wide! Do not be afraid to ask people for help; friends, coworkers, church members, etc.
- Explore all subsidized supports: Home Support, Better at Home, adult day programs, Handy Dart, caregiver tax benefits, supportive housing, etc.
- Explain your situation to your employer – communicating your challenges is key. Use your sick days, use your vacation time. If you have an Employee Assistance Program, talk to a professional from time to time.
- Research financial alternatives to assist with caregiving; loans, lines of credit, etc.
- Dig deep and practice self-care. Even if all that consists of is taking an extra 5 minutes to breathe before you get out of the car.
- Remember the love. In 2016 I bid farewell to both grandmothers, aged 94 and 101 respectively. An interesting aspect of my grief is that I am remembering them not as frail and sick, as they were in their final days – but as they were before all of that. It was an absolute privilege to have them by my side for all thirty-seven of my years.
Kari Chambers has worked with Seniors for the past twelve years, at Collingwood Neighbourhood House; Tsleil-Waututh Nation; and currently with the BC Association of Community Response Networks. She is also a member of North Shore Community Resources’ Better at Home/North Shore Caregivers advisory board.